Sun, Oct 07, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Bosnia-Herzegovina gears up for vote amid political anger

Hope for change has dwindled ahead of today’s elections for a bewildering number of posts in a divided country

By Andrew MacDowall  /  The Guardian, SARAJEVO

On a tree-lined riverbank in the Sarajevo district of Grbavica, Rabina Balti paused selling tubs of sweetcorn at her stall and gestured in disgust.

“Future?” she said. “There’s no future here! I have a university degree, but look how I work. We’ve lost hope. Every election, it’s all mixed — religion and politics.”

Twenty-eight years after the end of its internecine war that left 100,000 dead, Bosnia-Herzegovina votes today to elect a bewildering number of national and sub-national presidencies, parliaments and assemblies. Ethnic-nationalist parties representing the three main communities — Bosniak (Muslim), Serb and Croat — are expected to top the polls as they have at most previous elections since the political system was set up by the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement.

Hope that change would come to one of Europe’s poorest countries has dwindled. The average monthly wage is just over 400 euros (US$461), while unemployment stands at more than 20 percent, rising to more than 45 percent among young people. The grim economic situation is a major factor driving emigration from the country.

However, political frustrations are just as significant. People strolling the streets of Grbavica, a middle-class suburb once on the wartime frontline, express helplessness and bemoan the failure of Bosnia’s left-wing and multi-ethnic parties. The leading parties are accused of stoking tensions, while stuffing state-owned companies and the public administration with their supporters.

Adil Osmanovi, minister of civil affairs and a member of the Bosniak nationalist Party of Democratic Action, which leads the government and tops the polls among Bosniaks, says the government has raised economic growth, created nearly 21,500 jobs in the past year and made progress in preparing the way for an application for EU membership.

However, even some party loyalists are losing the faith. Husein Hrapovi, 75, was one of the first Party of Democratic Action members when the party was founded in 1990, joining it “because it was a kind of Muslim movement.”

“There have been scams and vote theft,” he said in the shop in Sarajevo’s bazaar district where he has worked for 55 years. “Now the party has its own people, who get jobs in state-owned companies. I don’t believe there’s a future. There are a lot of poor people and a lot of corruption. There could be another war in the next 10 years.”

Not everyone is so pessimistic.

Denijal Sahinovic, a young businessman with a small print shop in Sarajevo, said he worked across the country with business partners and customers of all ethnicities with no animosity.

“I am optimistic that if we trade enough, we can fix this country,” he said. “But international people used to come to our classrooms and say that we were the future, and then people saw the easy route to jobs and money through the system.”

Bosnia-Herzegovina has fewer than 3.5 million voters, but thanks to the complicated web of ethnopolitical structures put in place by the Dayton Peace Agreement that brought the war to an end, next month’s elections are to choose a national parliament, three members of the national presidency, the parliaments of the country’s two entities — the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and the predominantly Bosniak and Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina — and 11 other assemblies.

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